In order to gain influence over their North Carolina district, two CEOs seize an opportunity to oust long-term congressman Cam Brady by putting up a rival candidate. Their man: naive Marty Huggins, director of the local Tourism Centre.
THE CAMPAIGN is a two-hander comedy starring the bankable Zach Galifianakis and the even more bankable Will Ferrell as political rivals in a race for a congressional seat that involves bizarre attack ads, vicious character assassination and surreal dirty tricks.
Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a Democrat politician who has stood unopposed four times. A pair of billionaire brothers decide to run a Republican candidate against him after an indiscretion puts a dent in his poll numbers. And because THE CAMPAIGN is a comedy, they choose the extremely unsuitable Marty Huggins (Galifianakis).
Huggins is a bad dresser, a drawling, lisping, soft-hearted conservative who spouts positive affirmations like a less religious Ned Flanders. His opponent Brady is a political operator who has no real convictions, but enjoys the power and perks of his position. Their clash is one of style not substance, since neither the incumbent, nor the challenger have any real ideas or policies.
THE CAMPAIGN is made from the same mould as those Will Ferrell vehicles written and directed by Adam McKay – ANCHORMAN (2004), TALLADEGA NIGHTS (2006) and STEP BROTHERS (2008), although McKay only worked on the story for this movie.
Although the target is politics, this movie has only a passing acquaintance with the real thing. It focuses on points worthy of satire, such as the over-the-top attack ads that are a feature of US campaigning and hits them with absurdity and grossness, but with very little insight. The filmmakers get their laughs, but at the expense of making a point.
The billionaire Motch brothers, who “buy” Huggins, are an obvious stab at billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. The Motches (Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow) are a pair of power-hungry, self-entitled, manipulative characters. The real life Koches are a little less intelligent than their fictional counterparts as they chose recently to get into a dispute with Zach Galifianakis after he referred to them as “creepy” and not about “freedom.” The super-rich brothers decided the court jester needed a spanking and hired a lackey to make a rebuttal. Check the details of the kerfuffle online.
The screenplay is written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, whose combined credits include LAND OF THE LOST (2009), THE OTHER GUYS (2010) and television’s EASTBOUND AND DOWN. They are obviously steeped in the comic beats of Planet Ferrell. Cam Brady feels very much like an upscale Ricky Bobby right down to his relationship with his wife (Katherine LaNasa) and their two kids. Director Jay Roach is responsible for DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (2010), MEET THE PARENTS (2000), MEET THE FOCKERS (2004) and the Austin Powers trilogy. He keeps everything moving at a brisk clip.
Ferrell does his thing. Galifianakis gives us his only other character. Australian Josh Lawson plays his Type-A brother and Brian Cox, his disappointed father. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alum Jason Sudeikis takes the role of Brady’s campaign manager. Dylan McDermott is Huggins’ manager, who is also charged with his image makeover. McDermott funnels his usual intensity into the role to good effect. (Catch him in Season 1 of AMERICAN HORROR STORY if you really want to enjoy him going over the top.)
The movie is funny. I laughed a lot despite finding the material familiar and somewhat reheated. If you’ve enjoyed Ferrell and Galifianakis in their big box office movies, then you’re likely to enjoy them in this.
THE CAMPAIGN is on Australian screens now. It runs for 85 minutes. I rated it a 5/10.